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Stage winner Nacer Bouhanni
FDJ.fr man inspired by brother’s junior French title win
There was a sense that Nacer Bouhanni’s hat-trick of victories at the Giro d’Italia in May marked his leap in status in the sprinting hierarchy and he confirmed that impression with a dominant win on stage 2 of the Vuelta a España in San Fernando.
The Andalusian town’s location on the peninsula south of Cadiz has garnered it the nickname of La Isla, and Bouhanni had an island of space all to himself in the finishing straight, easily fending off the challenge of John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida).
Expertly guided by FDJ.fr teammate Geoffroy Soupe through a fraught final kilometre that featured not one, but two 90-degree turns, Bouhanni was perfectly placed entering the finishing straight, where he unleashed a crisp sprint to draw two lengths clear.
“The aim was to get a win in a bunch sprint and to get one as soon as possible,” Bouhanni said after the finish.
The Frenchman set out from Algeciras on Sunday afternoon as the strong favourite for stage victory. A boxer in his youth, the man from Épinal is aware that the man in possession of the title is not always the hungriest fighter, but he showed no signs that his appetite for this season has been sated.
Bouhanni, of course, was overlooked for selection for the Tour de France in favour of Arnaud Démare, a decision that confirmed his switch from FDJ to Cofidis for 2015. Although stoical in accepting the cards that were dealt, he carried a grim determination into this Vuelta.
Having sat out the month of July as Démare drew a blank at the Tour, Bouhanni returned to action and immediately claimed a stage win at the Eneco Tour, a sure sign that he was on track for the Vuelta.
“At the Eneco Tour, I won the only sprint that I contested, so I knew I had the condition,” Bouhanni said. “Even though I hadn’t raced much [since the French championships in June], I knew that I had the form.”
With one victory already in hand, Bouhanni is now looking to add to his bounty in the limited number of potential sprint finishes that remain. On the eve of the race, he told Cyclingnews that he believed he had “five or six” chances to land a stage victory on the road to Jerez.
Those opportunities are crammed for the most part into the opening half of the race, and with a summit finish and a time trial featuring on the final weekend, the fast men are lacking the carrot of one last mass finish in Santiago di Compostela.
With that in mind, perhaps, Bouhanni admitted that, for now at least, he is focused primarily on adding to his running tally of stages rather than making a deliberate goal of adding the Vuelta points classification to the Giro title he claimed in May.
“I’m glad I’ve got one win, and now, hopefully, I’ll get a second one,” Bouhanni said. “I’ll concentrate on that rather than the green jersey. I know that winning the points classification will be difficult here, although I will go for it in the intermediate sprints.”
Incidentally, the FDJ man was not the only member of the Bouhanni family with cause for celebration this weekend. His younger brother Rayane showed that he, too, packs a punch in the sprint by seeing off his breakaway companions to win the French junior road race title on Saturday.
A member of the SC Sarreguemines club, just like his older brother before him, Rayane Bouhanni had already underlined his considerable potential by winning the prestigious Tour de l’Abitibi in July and taking silver in the French junior time trial championships.
“My brother’s victory was something very important for me, and it gave me a lot of motivation,” Bouhanni said. “When I heard about it, it felt like best victory of the year, and I was so happy about it that I couldn’t sleep until 1am in the morning.”